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'LowLine' Preview Features Life-Size Model of Proposed Underground Park

By DNAinfo Staff on September 13, 2012 9:08am

By Stephanie Keith

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

LOWER EAST SIDE — A full-scale model of a proposed project that would transform an abandoned train station beneath Delancey Street into a subterranean park was unveiled Wednesday — giving visitors a first glimpse into the innovative project.

The “Delancey Underground” plan — otherwise known as the “Lowline” — would convert a defunct trolley terminal that covers nearly 2 acres beneath the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge into a belowground oasis using solar technology to channel sunlight for trees and other plants to grow.

The life-sized exhibit opened to the press Wednesday inside a vacant warehouse on Essex Street just above where the proposed park would be built.

After the concept was unveiled last year, co-creators Dan Barasch and James Ramsey raised more than $155,000 for the project, which has wowed locals and raised the interest of the MTA and other city officials.

The technology on display at the exhibit includes models of “remote skylights” that would concentrate natural sunlight form the street, and then channel it underground through fiber-optic cable, creating enough light to support photosynthesis. 

“You are actually having sun way below the surface of the earth,” said project engineer Edward Jacobs at the preview Wednesday. “You can easily route a bundle of cable anywhere, in any direction and at any depth. … Once the cable is laid out, you could actually grow vegetables underground and have a separate layer in the city of underground sanctuaries.”

In putting together the model, the first thing the Lowline team did was black out all the skylights to simulate the underground space. From there, they installed a custom set of devices that gathers sunlight and tracks the movement of the sun. The collected sunlight is then projected into a canopy onto a set of reflectors, resulting in a close approximation of natural light. 

In establishing the space’s greenery, horticulturalist Misty Gonzaliez chose plants native to Asia, including a Japanese maple, mood moss and mushrooms, creating a “micro environment”.

 The other part of the exhibit marks a collaboration between Audi of America and the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture. According to one of the curators, Chris Barley, the yearlong project was “to get a conversation going between people concerned with motion and those concerned with space and architecture asking, ‘Where is the meeting point between space and motion?’”

The result is nine student videos playing on a continuous loop, a scaled replica of the Manhattan map projected onto the floor incorporating students’ ideas, and a 50-foot-long suspended model of Manhattan’s subway grid that contextualizes the Lowline within the city’s underground spaces.